Intensification

Therapy Week 2

Apparently I’m crazier than I thought I was.  Yesterday, at therapy I learned that my view of normal is a bit skewed.  Granted, this is not surprising, but it is frustrating.  I knew that most of the time when I wash my hands, I don’t need to.  What I thought were normal hand-washing circumstances are apparently OCD.  My therapist informed me that most people wash their hands immediately after going to the bathroom and right before eating.  That’s it? That’s it.  What about after being outside? Not usually.  What about after petting or playing with a pet? Nope.  But… but… but…

I think now is as good a time as ever to introduce you to my cats: Merlin (black) and Skeeter (orange)

My cats are indoor cats, so maybe they are clean, but I still am not buying it.  They use a litter box.  They clean themselves with their tongues, not with soap.

Am I crazy for thinking that touching them warrants washing my hands?  (Seriously, I’d like your input in a comment.  Tell me what is normal for you because I don’t remember).  I also think that after being outside, one should wash his or her hands.  She said that’s not the case, though.

Homework Week 2

My homework this week increases the number of things that, after touching, I am supposed to delay washing or avoid washing my hands altogether.  The current homework list:
I can use hand sanitizer only after:

  • tying shoes

No cleaning allowed whatsoever after:

  • touching TV remote and similar household objects
  • touching the shower curtain
  • removing lint from dryer

Also, the inositol I bought has a recommended dose of 550 mg and I’ve been taking that every morning.  My therapist told me that I can work towards taking 12-18 grams per day, so yesterday I started slowly increasing the dosage and am taking half in the morning and half at night.  I’m also taking the theanine twice per day, 100 mg each time.  It’s hard to tell if they are helping or not because I have had such high stress since starting to take them.

The Problem with Kids

If you’re squeamish, you may want to stop here.  I had a rough day at work yesterday involving taking young children to the bathroom.

I started a new job on Monday.  I’m an assistant teacher at a preschool.  I have been a nanny/babysitter for the past 3-4 years and have enjoyed it, so I did not think this would be all that bad.  The kids who go there have to be potty trained, so it didn’t seem scary.  Too bad potty trained does not mean that they can do it all by themselves.  I had no idea and feel dumb for not knowing that, for not expecting it.  Yesterday, one of the three-year-olds needed to go to the bathroom, so the teacher asked me to take her.  Apparently, once one kid says they have to go, everyone eventually follows suit.  So the teacher kept sending the kids to me in the bathroom.  It was horrible!  Some of the kids had a hard time getting their pants on and off.  Some of them couldn’t get up on the toilet by themselves.  Most of them ignored me when I told them to flush once they were done.  None of them were any good at wiping.

I’m sorry.  I know this is gross, but I’m trying to paint a picture.  I will not be sugarcoating anything here.  But then you’re probably nowhere near as grossed out as I was, as I still am.  Anyway, back to it:

These kids also totally suck at washing their hands.  I know they’re kids, but that doesn’t make it less stressful for me.  They put soap on one of their hands and then just stick both hands into the water.  There is no rubbing involved, no evidence of soap being distributed to all surfaces.

By the time every kid had managed to go, I was a mess.  I sent the last one back into the classroom and ran into the teacher’s workroom.  The wonderful thing about this room is that there is a sink that is only used by adults.  I can’t tell you how many times I washed my hands, because I lost count after awhile.  I have never been stuck at a sink before.  The most I have ever washed my hands consecutively is maybe three times.  Usually, washing my hands once is enough.  Yesterday, though, I couldn’t get clean enough.  I just kept washing, over and over and over again.  The whole time, my mind was screaming STOP WASHING YOUR F**KING HANDS!  STOP IT, YOU PATHETIC, STUPID GIRL! It’s easy to get really frustrated with yourself in the middle of this kind of situation.  You know that you are technically clean by normal standards, but you still aren’t convinced, you still feel incredibly dirty.  You know that you’re being completely irrational, but that doesn’t stop the alarms in your head from screeching.  It is infuriating when you can’t stop yourself from doing something.

I sat there washing my hands for the gazillionth time and felt the tears coming.  My face heated up and my eyes fought to hold back the tears.  I was about to lose the battle against them when another teacher walked into the workroom.  The fear of embarrassment was strong enough to make me stop washing, suck it up and go back to my classroom.  I’m so grateful she walked in when she did and not a minute later when I would have been bawling my eyes out.  I went back to class and managed to finish the day without having to take any more kids to the bathroom (thankfully!).  The four-year-olds were so much easier to handle.  They were much more self-sufficient when it came to bathroom stuff (and they’re really good at washing their hands!), so I was more comfortable interacting with them.

The Aftermath

I still really badly wanted a shower when I got off work.  Actually, I wanted about five showers.  I went home, changed into jeans and a t-shirt, and sat on my couch, fighting myself.  It was so difficult to resist the urge to take a dangerously hot 45 minute shower to get rid of all of the germs.  What I’ve learned so far in therapy is that if I can resist a compulsion, that I should at least try to delay as long as possible.  Also if possible, I should try to distract myself.  I was trying to delay the inevitable shower when I decided that the best way to avoid a shower would be to not have one available.  So I got in my car and drove to my best friend’s house and spent a couple of hours over there.  By the time I left, my anxiety was gone.  When I got home, I showered, not because I felt compelled to, but because it was time for my daily shower.  It wasn’t ritualistic or extra long or anything, just a normal shower and that felt like victory.

Part of me really wants to continue this job and see if the exposure would be good for me, see if it helps me gain more control of this.  The other part of me thinks that this could be too much, too fast and that I should run and hide.  It’s down to basic fight or flight and I have no idea which to do.

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26 thoughts on “Intensification

  1. I only wash my hads after using the bathroom, cooking, eating and IF I have been working in the garden. I do not wash my hands after petting animals or tying shoes, touching the remote, the shower curtain or the lent tray.
    As far as the daycare…just pray you never have to catch vomit in your hands like I did in daycare, as a teacher and have done many times with my own children. By the way, I did wash my hands after those episodes.

    1. Oh my gosh! I would have a meltdown if that happened. Now I’m going to be terrified of it, thanks! Haha we’ll see!

      1. Sorry, I didn’t mean for that to sound insensitive. I was trying to add humor to your day, but it may not have come across that way. I am proud of your accomplishments this week. Way to go!

        1. I didn’t think you were being insensitive. I knew you didn’t mean it that way. The unfortunate thing about having OCD means that my mind latches on to things like that. A simple comment that most people would brush off gets stuck in my head on repeat. Thank you!

  2. Hmm. If what you do is considered “not normal,” then I guess I’m somewhere in-between. I wash my hands after being outside and after doing things like cleaning lint out of the dryer. I absolutely wash my hands after cleaning the litter boxes, but not after simply petting the cats.

    The job thing is tough. What does your therapist think? On the one hand, I think it might be good for you. On the other, if it stresses you out too much, then I think that can counteract any good it might do.

    1. Yeah, I’m pretty sure cleaning the litter box counts under the “ok to wash” category. I didn’t ask her, but that’s pretty much on the level of going to the bathroom, except it’s someone else’s business being cleaned. I don’t intend to stop washing my hands after doing that. The problem with that is, I don’t just wash my hands. I shower after cleaning the litter box, or rather, I won’t clean the litter box unless I am about to shower anyway.

      I haven’t talked to my therapist about it yet. I called her yesterday and left a message and am waiting to hear back. I’m really leaning towards sticking it out, mostly because I’m not a quitter. I really don’t want to damage progress being made by overloading myself, though. We’ll see.

  3. I wash my hands: after using the bathroom and before before eating because…well…duh. I also wash my hands after being outside, and my daycare teaches our kids to do so. Considering they play around in the dirt and such…it seems only sensible. As for pets, I wash my hands after petting dogs but not cats. For me, that one is more the fact I can smell dog smell on my hands afterward than anything, and that smell in turn makes me feel like my hands are dirty.

    I’m sorry you had such a traumatic experience with the bathroom + three-year-olds situation, but I’m really, really proud of you for managing to put off the shower until it could be a normal one!! I think that’s utterly fantastic! Good job!

    1. Yeah, I think if I were to garden or do yard work or something, washing my hands would be normal, but I wash them anytime I’m outside at all, even if all I did was go outside to check the mail, even if I went outside with someone else and didn’t touch anything myself.

      Thanks! I was proud of myself! I really didn’t think I could do it, but I’m glad I did. Holding off for that long proved to my mind that everything was going to be ok and that it could stop panicking. It was hard, but I think it was ultimately beneficial!

  4. I never really thought twice about washing my hands (I mean, I did wash my hands, but not like now) until I had a baby. When he was a newborn, I did wash my hands after just petting the cat, and I even asked others to do so too, but now that he is almost 8 months, I don’t. I’m certainly wary of germs for him and myself, but I know my immune system and his is strong enough to handle petting our kitty without washing every time we touch her. I commend you for working so hard and for writing about it (I found your blog through SITS).

    1. Thanks! I can imagine that having a baby would make one more conscious of hygiene. I can’t imagine how much worse I’d been if I tried to have a baby right now. I have realized through my experience at the daycare that I need to get this under control if I ever decide that I want kids of my own!

  5. I find this post quite fascinating. I am a Counseling Psychology grad student and have never read about some of the things we talk about in class from this standpoint. I was so intrigued!! I can only imagine how stressful that situation at the preschool yesterday could be for you. Poor thing! I am so interested in following your progress! I bounced over here through SITS.

    1. Glad to have a Psych student reading! It’ll be a nice perspective. I hope you continue reading and commenting! I’ve always been interested in psychology and this whole thing makes me want to study it even more.

  6. I hate that you are using the term “normal” at all, because I do not believe that “normal” exists. I wash my hands after being outside. I wash my hands after petting other people’s pets. And I definitely wash my hands after touching other people’s children. I do not think all of your cleaning compulsions are “IRRATIONAL”.

    I think the preschool will be helpful and get better with time. The more exposure and POSITIVE days will outweigh the negative and difficult days.

    1. I know you think a lot of my cleaning compulsions are rational, but you have OCD tendencies, too, when it comes to cleaning things. I think I have to trust my therapist on this one, as much as I don’t want to. Most of the feedback I’ve gotten backs her up. I really thought I was right on this one.

      In the past, I haven’t liked using the term normal either, but I’m ok with it now. I don’t think anyone is 100% normal, by any means, but I think there are normal standards to shoot for with things like this.

      1. I agree with DaNae. My search for normal years ago lead me to the conclusion that there is no such thing as normal. Most people have their oddities and are crazy in some form or fashion.

        1. I agree that it’s impossible to measure any kind of absolute normal, but I do think that there are some normal standards that I need to shoot for. Yes, everyone has their oddities and craziness, but I am trying to be less crazy and have to have something to shoot for. I know normal doesn’t necessarily physically exist, but it’s an idea and that counts for something.

  7. I wash my hands when I cook dinner (most particularly if I’m switching from handling meats to veggies), of course when I use the bathroom, and I’ll use hand sanitizer occasionally after I use public transportation. I do have to wash my hands (and often shower) after I pet/play with pets, but that’s not because I think they’re dirty but rather because I’m very allergic and shouldn’t touch them in the first place. I think you’re making great progress, and I also don’t think it’s compulsion to wash your hands after the litter box. Keep up the great work!

    1. I don’t think it’s a compulsion to wash after cleaning the litter box either and I think my therapist would agree with me since that’s on the same level as using the bathroom or changing a diaper or something, which is a normal time to wash hands.

      Thanks!!

  8. Wow, your preschool experience sounds awful! It’s good you’re working on the hand washing issue. I won’t tell you about my cloth diapering experiences! Thank you for stopping by my blog for SITS potluck!!

  9. Lotus,

    I love your blog! I’ve enjoyed reading every entry and wish you the VERY best as you work through this phase in your life.

    I have a mild handwashing compulsion largely because I worked in my father’s dental office, and quickly learned to follow his example. He washed his hands in the examining room in front of EVERY patient before touching them. I got into the habit that way, and so I wash my hands when they *feel* dirty. I also wash my hands first thing when coming home from anywhere–outside, stores, school, etc. I also have this strange foot washing compulsion too. If I’ve been out in sandals all day and haven’t showered lately, I wash my feet before going to bed. That habit I kind of picked up from a college roommate.

    I do hope that you continue your preschool job. There’s an important connection between your realization that you would have gone into that tunnel four years ago and where those kids are in their learning process about hygiene. Watch the kids closely–they’re very concrete about life and I bet they’ll teach you quite a bit about how to learn (and re-learn) certain habits.

    Yay for processing experience through writing! You’re a star student…:-)

    1. Thanks!

      I have decided to keep the job. I have made it through 2 weeks there now and each days is better than the last. It’s forced exposure therapy and it’s intense enough that I am able to notice a difference in anxiety levels from day to day. The kids really are teaching me about the difference between OCD and normal. Even though they have horrible hygiene habits, they’re all pretty healthy. I caught myself realizing that today after watching a child touch her face and stick her fingers in her mouth after going to the bathroom and before washing her hands. I cringed but then I thought “You know, that’s really really REALLY gross, but it didn’t hurt her. She probably won’t even get sick.” I’m not about to start sticking my fingers in my mouth after using the bathroom, but it gave me some perspective.

  10. Hi! Found your blog thru Blog Frog.

    I’m kind of wondering if I wash my hand excessively now.. I wash my hands at all the ‘rational’ times, after I get home, after petting any animal, etc. I actually don’t allow shoes in my house, because I find it disgusting, and I hate touching shoe laces, so I leave them tied and use a shoe horn to get my shoes on.

    I’m with the above commenter on the foot washing thing too. I love flip flops, but I wash my feet before getting in my bed. And no outside clothing in bed either!

    I used to work at a day-care with toddler aged children getting potty trained, and that SUCKED. I would internally cringe when they touched me and wanted to be held, but I did it with a smile on my face, cause in the end, I really like kids.

    1. Those sound rational to me, but my therapist assures me they are irrational. Apparently the only “normal” times to wash are after going to the bathroom, before eating or if your hands are visibly dirty (like after gardening or something).

      I have my shoes tied just loose enough for me to slip them on and off without ever having to touch them. I HATE my homework that involves touching them. I just really, really, really hate shoes and feet. I don’t even want to face that fear, but I have to. It’s definitely the one bit of homework that I still resist the most.

      Yes, my bed is my sanctuary! No outside clothes or dirty bodies are allowed! I shower at night so that I’m clean when I get in bed. It’s my “clean zone”, which I’m sure means that further down the road in treatment, I’ll have to “contaminate” it. I don’t look forward to that day!

  11. I have similar massive handwashing issues. for example, my family gets really pissed when I give them “the look” when they take the garbage out and don’t wash after – they don’t, I do. (cuz to me, our communal garbage is dirty – passers by put their dog poop in, visitors with little kids? great, add some diapers to the mix, oh goody, raw meat packaging – all of which freak me out but are normal to them). I can’t imagine working at a daycare or having cats. holy crap. so, what I’m saying is good for you!

    1. They should always wash their hands after taking out the garbage! I’ve learned that’s one of the few things with which I am allowed to take issue. I feel your pain, though. I once had a coworker who told me she didn’t wash her hands after using the bathroom unless she got something on them. My OCD had a major problem with that, of course, but so did a lot of my “normal” coworkers.

      And thanks! I have had cats my whole life, so it’s easier to deal with than if I’d never had pets. I’m a lot better around cats than dogs since cats clean themselves. Getting through things like the preschool (last summer) and changing diapers (this summer) have been extremely difficult, but since they have been jobs, I have sucked it up and habituated. Being able to habituate to something so quickly (because you have to do it all day at work) is pretty fun to watch. I still hate diapers, but I am not terrified of them like I was 4 months ago.

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